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No, Thank You - Polite Negative Expressions

Quiz playing is a wonderful way to increase your knowledge of English as a Second Language. Remember that all of our ESL quizzes have titles that are both friendly and technical at the same time… In the case of this quiz you might like to tell your friends about “No, Thank You” but no doubt your teachers will talk about the “Polite Negative Expressions quiz”! If you hear a technical term and you want to find a quiz about the subject then just look through the list of quiz titles until you find what you need.

No, thank you is a polite negative expression.

If you happen to be coming to England from the Far East, you will be well familiar with the thought of 'losing face’: when one or both people in a communicative situation might become embarrassed and/or uncomfortable as a result of something somebody does or says (or, possibly, doesn't say or do).

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It is socially useful to know a number of polite negative expressions so that you know how to refuse something, without the person offering it being made to feel offended.

What alternatives are there to 'no-thank-you'? Let's see!

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  1. Someone has kindly suggested a trip or outing that does not, in fact, appeal to you at all. What would you say?
    You should not be too brief (Answer 1), and you are not obliged to give your reasons (though the other person may well ask you exactly that, as the next thing they say; so be prepared!).
    Answer 4, clearly, is just plain rude.
  2. You are offered some food or a drink which you know you cannot accept (perhaps for medical or religious reasons, rather than 'just' personal preference). How can you turn it down politely, after all the effort that someone has put into preparing it?
    You need to express both the impossibility, and your regret. Answer 4 does this most clearly. Answer 2 is blunt and rude; Answer 3 suggests your host(ess) is at fault for not having realised the problem beforehand.
    You needn't specify who has forbidden this to you: it may be obvious, or perhaps a private medical matter that you are not obliged to disclose in detail in a social context, such as round the table.
  3. Choose the answer which fills the gap/s using the most accurate, stylish and appropriate English.
    'You wouldn't like some of this sago pudding, would you?'
    ' ... ... . '
    It is confusing if you reply with a 'yes' (Answer 1), even if you are affirming that they are right (i.e. that you didn't want any).
    Answer 2 is clear, but rather blunt and therefore sounds somewhat rude. Much of Answer 3 is 'filling', but it makes your refusal softer and more socially acceptable.
    Answer 4 is far too strong to be polite.
  4. Choose the answer which fills the gap/s using the most accurate, stylish and appropriate English.
    'How would you like to come para-skiing at the weekend?'
    ' ... ... '
    Answer 1 does not actually offer a clear reply to the Question; would you like to go, or not?
    Answer 2 may well be true, but nobody will feel particularly comfortable if you say so.
    Answer 3 is a perfectly reasonable delaying tactic ~ 'buying some time' ~ but clearly they will need a firmer answer before long, in order to confirm the logistical arrangements (whether or not you will be joining them).
    Answer 4 remains the clearest, even if it does not explain any reason. That's all they asked you, in the first place; and if your answer is negative, why should the reasons for it matter particularly?
  5. Choose the answer which fills the gap/s using the most accurate, stylish and appropriate English.
    'How about going dog-racing tomorrow night? Have you ever been to a dog-track before?'
    ' ... ... .'
    Answer 1 may happen to be true (and fairly final, as far as your own attitude to the animal is concerned), but it is hardly a sensitive reply that offers any common ground. Answer 4 is rude because it is dismissive and even confrontational.
    For the purposes of this Quiz, we 'aren't saying Yes', so Answer 2 is irrelevant.
    Answer 3 turns down the offer, but hints about a more friendly answer in the future (even if both people are fairly sure that it isn't seriously true).
  6. An English man, somewhat older than you, seems to have been watching you as you sit studying in a public place (such as a park or library). He may be entirely innocent and friendly, but you are not confident enough to be sure. He 'catches your eye', engages you in conversation and invites you to join him on the terrace of a local cafe. You do not wish to hurt his feelings, but neither would you be comfortable going with him. What do you say?
    Answer 1 is clear and negative; Answer 2 is also clear, but if the man means you no harm, he might be offended by it (even though he ought to understand your reasons). Answer 3 may be unnecessarily harsh; Answer 4 may seem polite, but is quite obviously dishonest (raising false hopes for him).
    Obviously, if the situation were to 'turn ugly' you would probably say something else which we might prefer not to put here, and/or begin shouting, and/or run away as fast as you can.
  7. This time, you have genuinely enjoyed a new British experience: you have been to watch the Highland Games in Scotland, perhaps, or at least, you have tried a new British food and discovered that you liked it. But now you are tired and/or full, and your English friend is offering you some more of the same. What do you say?
    This is probably the clearest and politest. You have made it clear that there is nothing wrong with what she is offering you, so she should not feel in any way to blame.
  8. You are in a queue outside a tourist landmark (e.g. Mme Tussaud's Waxworks in London), and people are pestering you to buy cheap souvenirs while you are waiting. You have no wish to buy any, nor to encourage them. What do you say when they ask you?
    You would probably like to say something similar to Answer 4, but Answer 3 makes your position clear without hurting their feelings.
  9. This time, you are walking along a main road in a British town when a young adult comes up to you. He/she is holding a clipboard and a small bag that appears to contain documents, and a badged tin for collecting money. You recognise that this person is working for a British charity ~ and wants to ask you some questions, take up your time, and may be trying to 'sign you up' to give regular money to the charity. Maybe you approve of this charity (it might be for medical research, or animals) but you would not feel comfortable in a long conversation on this topic. What do you say, as early as you can?
    Answer 1 is the clearest; Answer 2 may be true but is blunt and rude (this person is only trying to do their job, 'in a good cause', after all); Answer 3 may happen to be true but is rather a 'thin' excuse. Answer 4 is a kind thought, but neither we nor the charity collector would expect you to say so much.
  10. You are waiting in a public place for a British friend to meet you. A suspicious-looking stranger comes towards you and makes a suggestion which is inappropriate and/or illegal (e.g. offering you drugs, black-market currency exchange, or something rather personal that you very definitely don't want). What do you say?
    Answer 1 may seem slightly silly in a serious situation, but it may be better than turning confrontational with a person like this: the situation could quickly become ugly. If he or she does not take the hint, you may then need to say (or do) something stronger.
    Answer 2 (or something like it; ' ... or were you only joking, anyway?') might be polite and clear but not too confrontational.
    Answer 3 is probably too much to remember clearly in a sudden and worrying situation, but it's the sort of thing a self-confident native speaker might use.
    Answer 4 is good and clear, but it may be worth a 'softer' deflection before you say anything as harsh as this yourself.
    We certainly do not wish to suggest, in this Quiz, that you are any more likely to find yourself in a difficult situation in Britain than elsewhere in the world ~ but we hope this has opened your eyes to some more of the ways of saying 'No', with various levels of clarity, politeness and subtlety.

Author: Ian Miles

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